On Saturday, speakers at a seminar on ‘Women Empowerment’, urged women to play an active role in the development of the country. The Punjab Minister for Women Development, Hameeda Waheedudin, was present as the chief guest.

These gatherings are good for the moral of women already in positions of power, yet the outreach of such programs their aims to the grass roots is a concern. Appreciating the women empowering package that was initiated by the Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif, Hameeda Waheedudin was of the view that by taking the very steps mentioned in it, women’s deprivation could be eliminated, so that they could play a role in national development.

This statement, is far from the truth and practicality, where it has been almost 5 years since the launch of this initiative. Out of the salient features, only one or two have been achieved (to used the word “achieved” loosely). The package had aimed to advance the status of women in the province through safeguards, legislative action and increased representation in government institutions. The Punjab government has decided to give 33 percent representation to women in all decision making boards and committees and added that it will help in participation of women of different sectors in decision making process.

Yet without programs at the local levels for female education, social inclusion and encouragement to work, support systems for working mothers and the end of harassment and insecurity, the representation in decision making boards will be of only the privileged classes of women. Pakistan is sitting on a gold-mine of talent and potential, just in terms of what women can contribute to the economy, even if conservative social norms cannot accommodate the fact that women deserve the same treatment and opportunities as men. It would not be completely fair to out rightly dismiss these projects and seminars where some strides have been made, such as awareness and the gradual inclusion of women. However, this should only be seen as only a mere dot in a grander scheme of things, where women empowerment and equality is far from being at a level to make Pakistan a female-friendly country.

The solution to the problem of gender inequality has to move beyond superficial tokens. Recently, seventeen chief executive officers of different companies signed the ‘CEO Statement of Support for the Women’s Empowerment Principles’, to promote gender diversity and inclusive work force within the corporate sector as well. This along with a desire by the government to include more women in the political realm has to be more than just signing a few documents.